Will Harris explore previous options at Meetings?

November 30th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck's Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

General managers don’t get do-overs. Dave Dombrowski can’t go back a decade and do anything different about the Tigers’ handling of Max Scherzer’s contract situation before he became a free agent and signed with the Nationals. There’s no five-year return policy on the prospects the Tigers received in the Justin Verlander trade.

As Scott Harris prepares for his first Winter Meetings as the Tigers' president of baseball operations, however, he might have an opportunity to run back some potential deals that Detroit weighed leading into the Trade Deadline back in August. In the process, next week could give a glimpse into how heavily Harris wants to remake Detroit’s roster, and whether he’ll face the same challenges that former Tigers general manager Al Avila did.

The Tigers didn’t have much that appealed to contending clubs at the Trade Deadline, but their surprisingly effective bullpen gave them relievers to shop. Avila listened to interest in , Andrew Chafin and , hoping to land young talent to supplement the organization’s core.

But with plenty of non-contending teams offering relievers in a buyer’s market, buyers didn’t budge, and neither did Detroit. In the end, only Michael Fulmer -- a soon-to-be free agent -- was traded, garnering pitching prospect Sawyer Gipson-Long from the Twins in return.

The Tigers’ situation with Chafin was particularly difficult. Detroit shopped him as a reliever contenders could have for a season and a half thanks to the two-year contract he signed as a free agent last March. However, many teams viewed him as a rental due to the opt-out clause in his contract. Detroit decided to keep Chafin at the Deadline, believing they could hold onto him for 2023. Instead, Chafin opted out, hoping to take advantage of a thin free-agent relief market, leaving the Tigers with nothing in return.

Detroit can’t do anything about Chafin’s situation now. But with Rafael Montero signing a three-year, $34.5 million contract to stay with the Astros, and Robert Suarez signing a five-year, $46 million contract to remain in San Diego, the bullpen market could present the Tigers with another round of interest in Soto, Jiménez and possibly .

Part of the disconnect with Soto on the trade market last summer was his role. While he’s an All-Star closer in Detroit, other clubs viewed him as a lefty setup man or some other non-closing role, and priced their offers accordingly. The Tigers, unable to pry top prospects away, held onto Soto, who went 11-for-12 in save opportunities from Aug. 1 to season’s end but had a 4.50 ERA and nearly as many walks (19) as strikeouts (23) over 26 innings during that home stretch.

Soto is eligible for arbitration this offseason for the first time in his career, but he still has three more years of team control before free agency. He’s also just entering his prime years with his 28th birthday coming up in February. While his swing-and-miss rate, exit velocity and hard-hit rate all regressed, his fastball and sinker velocity and spin rates are nearly the same.

If Soto can get more ground balls with his sinker while regaining some old movement on his slider, he can get back to 2021 form. How much teams are willing to offer for that is another question, but the offseason market allows the Tigers to engage potential interest from clubs that were out of contention over the summer.

While Jiménez would be a one-year rental for a club, Lange just finished his first full Major League season. His curveball was one of the best swing-and-miss pitches in baseball in 2022 with a 57.8 percent whiff rate according to Statcast, and his changeup wasn’t far off at 56 percent. The Cubs’ trade of Scott Effross to the Yankees for starting prospect Hayden Wesneski at the Trade Deadline established a market for relievers in pre-arbitration years and showed the kind of unorthodox deal Detroit could explore under Harris.